Saturday 30 November 2013

Why should Saudi Arabia feel anxious and lonely?

This is my paraphrasing of the weekly think piece penned in Arabic by Saudi mass media celebrity Jamal Khashoggi for pan-Arab daily al-Hayat
Saeed al-Wahhabi is a young Saudi writer with a blunt and concise style of expressing himself in writing.
After the Saudis were crammed all day long with news analyses of the nuclear deal between the 5+1 world powers and Iran, he encapsulated the general Saudi mood last Sunday night with a tweet saying, “No doubt, Saudi Arabia feels lonely tonight.”
Yes, it was a tough night.
Until an official (Saudi) statement cautiously welcoming the agreement was released, the ghosts and illusions of threats and isolation made the rounds.
At the same time, analysts were piling up the jitters: “Iran is the region’s policeman” and “As customary, the United States double-crosses her allies and lets them down.”
In context, I personally told Agence France-Presse (AFP) Iran softened her nuclear ambitions in order to win hegemony over the region.
But the public’s anxiety and dejected feeling were unwarranted. The agreement reached in Geneva last Sunday is natural and a commonplace occurrence in history, which should rid the region from the specter of war that has been hovering in its skies for over a decade.
When serving as Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal coined a brief answer explaining Saudi Arabia’s position on Iran’s nuclear program. This was because he would be asked about the subject each time he held a stateside press conference or met with U.S. officials.
Prince Turki’s cliché answer went like this: “We live today between two nightmares. The first is Iran making a nuclear bomb. The other is Israel blitzing Iran’s nuclear facilities and dragging the region into a war of unknown scope and outcome.”
The new Iran deal dispels our bad dreams – at least during its six-month timeframe when Tehran will freeze its progress towards a possible nuclear bomb and Israel won’t launch a preventive strike against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.
There is also a chance of the November 24 interim agreement making a permanent check on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and bringing permanent peace to the region.
What should be a matter of concern for us Saudis are the state of “anxiety and apprehension” and the case of “going to bed (if at all) feeling lonely” as Wahhabi suggested in his tweet.
Abdullah al-Askar, who heads the foreign relations committee in the Shura (Consultative) Council, said, “Denizens of the region won’t be getting much shut-eye.”
Such negative reactions are a source of concern for the express and endemic lack of confidence in our ability to cope with overdue change in the region.
I put forward that this is because:
  • We got “used” to being dependent on the U.S. as a strategic ally that will invariably lend us a hand in times of crises.
  • We realized the region started to wobble and lose its balance after the fall of Iraq and Saddam Hussein (and this is not to bemoan the loss of the man or his regime)
  • Then came Turkey’s rise as a regional power, Egypt’s eclipse for internal reasons associated with the Arab Spring, and Pakistan’s hibernation after the wounds it sustained post 9/11 and its mini civil war with the Taliban.
It can be argued that Saudi Arabia stand alone in facing up to Iran and her regional ambitions. That’s despite the kingdom having common interests with Turkey and Qatar for instance in the Syria war, and with the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar in Bahrain’s turmoil.
Nonetheless, there is no united front or agreement to confront Iran. All the countries I mentioned now and earlier have links and interests with Iran. But they all lack a common strategic agenda for action on the Syria front. This has allowed the Syrian regime and its Iranian backer to score victories over opposition forces.
The November 24 agreement did not give Iran a free hand in the region. But her hands were not exactly tied behind her back before the agreement.
Proof is Tehran’s unchallenged military intervention in Syria.
Iran is thus aware the West is not particularly interested in what she is doing in Yemen or in Bahrain so long as the IAEA inspectors are going about their jobs freely and the enrichment of uranium is not exceeding the agreed level.
Iran will thus enhance its activities in places like Yemen and Bahrain in order to test her new relations with the West.
Saudi Arabia would have to face this alone, but not necessarily. She still has common interests with regional heavyweights.
But a restructuring of Saudi Arabia’s defense policy is imperative – starting with an acknowledgement that reliance on the United States is unhealthy.
The fact America turned her back on us was not a whimsical Obama move. It was a well thought out U.S. policy resulting from ongoing changes in America’s priorities.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would thus have to redraw the map of her regional alliances. Turkey is key. Her leaders want special relations with the kingdom.
But Egypt is yet to come back from the wilderness. The most that can be heard from Cairo is, “We support all what you do” – except that Cairo did nothing for Syria.
Pakistan too needs a friend’s help to make up with the Taliban, allowing the Pakistani army to resume its national duties.
It will also be necessary to open channels of communication with Iran, even while the confrontation persists. Tehran repeats every five minutes that it wants good relations with the kingdom. Let’s take after the Iranians’ diligence and hear what they have to say.
The region’s problems are many. They multiply when neglected but they can be solved. The region also harbors allies and friends of ours. We don’t have to feel lonely after that dreary Sunday.

Friday 29 November 2013

Fourth major U.S.-Israel crisis looming

Clockwise from top R.: Roger Stone's book jacket and Ben-Gurion with Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower

Will U.S.-Israel relations fray over Iran?
It looks like they will, according to veteran Lebanese journalist Selim Nassar writing for pan-Arab daily al-Hayat the week preceding the world powers’ nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.
Nassar expected last Sunday’s agreement in Geneva between the 5+1 world powers and Iran to mark the fourth hiccup of note in the 65-year-old “special relationship” between the United States and Israel.
The first U.S.-Israel tiff occurred under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who compelled the Israelis to evacuate the Sinai Peninsula following the 1956 Suez War.
Eisenhower wrote to Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on November 7, 1956 saying:
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
As you know, the General Assembly of the United Nations has arranged a cease-fire in Egypt to which Egypt, France, the United Kingdom and Israel have agreed. There is being dispatched to Egypt a United Nations force in accordance with pertinent resolutions of the General Assembly. That body has urged that all other foreign forces be withdrawn from Egyptian territory, and specifically, that Israeli forces be withdrawn to the General Armistice line. The resolution covering the cease-fire and withdrawal was introduced by the United States and received the overwhelming vote of the Assembly.
Statements attributed to your Government to the effect that Israel does not intend to withdraw from Egyptian territory, as requested by the United Nations, have been called to my attention. I must say frankly, Mr. Prime Minister, that the United States views these reports, if true, with deep concern. Any such decision by the Government of Israel would seriously undermine the urgent efforts being made by the United Nations to restore peace in the Middle East, and could not but bring about the condemnation of Israel as a violator of the principles as well as the directives of the United Nations.
It is our belief that as a matter of highest priority peace should be restored and foreign troops, except for United Nations forces, withdrawn from Egypt, after which new and energetic steps should be undertaken within the framework of the United Nations to solve the basic problems, which have given rise to the present difficulty. The United States has tabled in the General Assembly two resolutions designed to accomplish the latter purposes, and hopes that they will be acted upon favorably as soon as the present emergency has been dealt with.
I need not assure you of the deep interest, which the United States has in your country, nor recall the various elements of our policy of support to Israel in so many ways. It is in this context that I urge you to comply with the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly dealing with the current crisis and to make your decision known immediately. It would be a matter of the greatest regret to all my countrymen if Israeli policy on a matter of such grave concern to the world should in any way impair the friendly cooperation between our two countries.
With best wishes,
Dwight D. Eisenhower
The second full-blown crisis between the U.S. and Israel started after President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961.
This is how Israel’s Jerusalem Post described Kennedy’s actions:
The clash began in 1960, when the outgoing Eisenhower administration sought an explanation for the mysterious construction near Dimona. It was told that this top-secret activity in the middle of the desert was a harmless textile plant, and no, it could not come and visit. Classified spy photos were then published on the front page of The New York Times (yes, the CIA spied on the Jewish state, with or without forged passports).
When President Kennedy took office in 1961, the disagreement became a full-blown crisis. Like Obama, Kennedy was not inherently hostile, but he did not have a special sympathy for the Jewish people. His advisers urged continuous pressure, assuming that Israel would have no choice but to accept U.S. demands. Every high-level meeting or communication repeated the demand for inspection of Dimona. One form of pressure was to deny Ben-Gurion an invitation to the White House – his May 1961 meeting with Kennedy was a low-key affair at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, and was dominated by this issue.
… If the U.S. government were to impose tax restrictions, the costs would have been very high. Ben-Gurion avoided saying no by dancing around them for two years.
Finally, Kennedy had enough, and in a personal letter dated May 18, 1963, the president warned that unless American inspectors were allowed into Dimona (meaning the end of any military activities), Israel would find itself totally isolated.
Nassar quotes Ben-Gurion as having told aides after a stormy meeting with Kennedy: “It’s difficult to put up with a Catholic president at the White House.”
But then fate intervened and Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. The Israelis were off the hook. Not one of Kennedy’s successors ever even attempted to confront (or even acknowledge) Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
Fifty years after his death, a scant 25% of Americans believe the official version of Kennedy’s death, according to a recent poll.
The government’s story, promulgated by the Warren Commission — an investigatory body created a week after the assassination — said that a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, fired three shots, two of which fatally struck Kennedy.
Oswald acted alone, the Warren Commission said, and so did Jack Ruby, the man who shot and killed Oswald two days later.
In the decades since, advances in criminal forensics and technology have upheld some of the Warren Commission’s findings and cast doubt on others.
In his new book – “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ” -- Roger Stone, the sharp-dressed, rightwing political operative who is no fan of any Democrat and who worked on the Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidential campaigns, has it in for Lyndon Johnson.
Stone accuses Johnson of responsibility for nine murders, including the greatest crime of the 20th century, the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Some J.F.K. conspiracy theories blame the mafia, some blame the CIA and some blame the far right or the far left. Stone’s theory wraps together all those ideas and puts Johnson upfront as the ringmaster. “He’s the lynchpin of a conspiracy involving others,” Stone said.
His theory is buttressed with innuendo. Stone said Nixon once told him that both he and Johnson badly wanted the presidency but that, unlike Johnson, “I wasn’t willing to kill for it.”
Nassar goes on to write, “Johnson’s pro-Israel policies made possible Israel’s occupation of territory in three Arab countries during the 1967 war.”
The third bilateral spat came after the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Nassar recalls Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, were received in Damascus by then Syrian President Hafez Assad on June 16, 1974.
Assad, Nassar reports, started explaining why he accepted UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 and his willingness to recognize Israel within its pre-June 1967 borders.
Nassar suggests Kissinger interrupted the Nixon-Assad discourse under the pretext of time pressure.
Nassar interviewed Nixon in New York in June 1983, when the former president dwelt on the Watergate scandal, suggesting the exclusive reports by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for the Washington Post on the break-in at the Watergate office complex in Washington had more to do with Middle East politics than U.S. political affairs.
Some 40 years after Watergate, Nassar remarks, former FBI agent Mark Felt revealed himself as the Watergate whistleblower but said nothing about Convicted American spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard who this month entered the 29th year of a life sentence in a U.S. prison.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most prominent critics of this week’s U.S. deal with Iran. While President Barack Obama calls the agreement a breakthrough, Netanyahu calls it a "historic mistake." And neither leader fully trusts the other.
Is a fourth major U.S.-Israel crisis on the cards?

Thursday 28 November 2013

Washington luring Turkey into Iran’s lap

Ailing Arabs caught between Iran (L) and Turkey (R)  -- by Syrian cartoonist Fahd Bahady

Turkish strategic affairs analyst Ali Hasan Bakir believes the precipitous rapprochement between Turkey, the region’s Sunni heavyweight, and Shiite powerhouse Iran could be aimed at giving “a Sunni cover to America’s nuclear deal with Iran.”
The nuclear agreement between the 5+1 world powers and Iran was reached in Geneva last Sunday.
Ankara-based Bakir tells today’s edition of the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat: “There has been frantic efforts of late by Iran and the United States to cajole Turkey by offering to iron out some of her regional hurdles.
“Iran, for instance, played a key role in pushing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to open up to Turkey.
“This, in addition to addressing some of Turkey’s foreign policy concerns such as reducing secular tensions in the area and fighting terror. That could pave the way for closer bilateral cooperation to take Ankara’s interests into consideration as regards Syria or at least cut its losses in case [Bashar al-] Assad stays in power for a short while.”
Bakir is of the opinion “Iran’s aim is to win over Turkey and isolate the Gulf Arab states at the regional level and secure a Sunni cover to America’s nuclear deal with Iran -- a deal that strongly exasperated Saudi Arabia…”
Enhanced cooperation between Turkey and Iran would improve regional stability, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on a visit to Tehran this week.
The countries’ foreign ministers demonstrated their growing unity Wednesday by jointly calling for a cease-fire in Syria ahead of peace talks between its civil war factions set for January 22 in Geneva.
Additionally, Davutoglu announced that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would visit Turkey in January.
“It is true that we have some differences with neighboring countries, but the tenets of our foreign policy have not changed,” Davutoglu said at a press conference with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who will be visiting Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia shortly.
In Syria, Iran is supporting the Assad regime, while the Turkish government is backing the opposition.
Davutoglu said Tehran and Ankara need not wait two months for Geneva-2, but “before then, the ground should be paved for a cease-fire that will also contribute to the success of that conference.”
Rouhani said in a meeting with Davutoglu yesterday the Syria conflict “has no military solution, and the country’s crisis should be ended through serious negotiations.”
The Turkish foreign minister also called for greater energy cooperation between the two countries.
“At a place and time where some try to instigate sectarian conflicts, dialogue between Iran and Turkey is the most important dialogue in the region,” Davutoglu said.
Asharq Alawsat quotes unnamed Turkish sources as saying their country’s spymaster, Hakan Fidan, shapes Iran policy and “is not an enemy of Iran.”

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Arabs & Israel feel shortchanged by ‘Great Satan’

America's Obama Obama and Iran's Rouhani (from

Led by Saudi Arabia, Arab governments are dumbstruck by Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and the Islamic Republic’s acceptance on the global stage.
Not so Israel, which calls the deal a “mistake,” and not so the overwhelming majority of political analysts and commentators in the Arab media.
Fahmi Howeidi, dean of these Arab public opinion-shapers, concludes his think piece today for Aljazeera TV news portal with a sentence saying: “The long and short of the new balance of power in the Arab world is this: Iran tops the list of winners but there is no mention of the Arabs anywhere.”
Tariq Alhomayed, writing today for Asharq Alawsat, the Saudi newspaper of records of which he was editor-in-chief, believes “the deal with Iran is more treacherous than 9/11.”
U.S. President Barack Obama overnight defended the deal between Iran and world powers on Tehran's nuclear program.
The six-month interim deal struck in Geneva on Sunday saw Iran agree to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
The accord has been generally welcomed but Israel's prime minister called it "a historic mistake".
The West has long suspected Iran's uranium enrichment program is geared towards making a weapon, but Tehran insists it only wants nuclear energy.
The UN, U.S. and European Union had imposed a raft of sanctions on Tehran.
"Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world's problems," the BBC quoted Obama as saying during an event in San Francisco.
"We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of violence, and tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it's not the right thing for our security."
Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an Israeli team led by national security adviser Yossi Cohen would travel to Washington for talks on the deal.
"This accord must bring about one outcome: the dismantling of Iran's military nuclear capability," he said.
Israel has not ruled out taking military action to stop Iran developing the capability of a nuclear bomb.
Saudi Arabia -- Iran's regional counterweight -- cautiously welcomed the deal yesterday.
Under the deal which will last six months, Iran would receive some $7bn in "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible [sanctions] relief" while a permanent agreement is sought.
Key points of the deal include:
  • Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5% and "neutralize" its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point
  • Iran will give greater access to inspectors including daily access at Natanz and Fordo -- two of Iran’s key nuclear sites
  • There will be no further development of the Arak plant, which it is believed could produce plutonium
  • In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months if Iran sticks by the accord
  • Some sanctions will be suspended on trading in gold and precious metals, on Iran's car-making sector and its petrochemical exports
  • Frozen oil sale assets will be transferred in installments, bringing in some $4.2bn of extra revenue.
Howeidi, in his piece today for Aljazeera quotes unnamed Iranian experts as telling him:
  • The deal recognizes Iran as a regional nuclear power with the right to continue its uranium enrichment program for peaceful purposes
  • The Iranians and Americans rushed the deal through to sidestep adverse pressure by Israel, France and some Gulf Arab lobbyists
  • The Iranian-American understandings go beyond the nuclear program and the easing of economic sanctions. “The most important understanding is over Iran’s participation in the fight against terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan”
  • The deal allows Iran to receive some $7 billion in sanctions relief; about $1.5 billion of the frozen assets were promptly released to Tehran “by Asian banks in South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia as early as last Sunday morning”
  • Shell, which was complying with the sanctions, was the first oil major to resume work in Iran.
Howeidi sums up the most important features of the agreement between the 5+1 world powers and Iran as follows:
  1. It seems a new axis is taking shape in the region comprising Iran and Russia, the two countries that played a key role in aborting an American military strike against Syria.
  2. The U.S. will henceforth “rely on Iran and Turkey to keep the peace in the region now that Egypt has lost its standing in the Arab world.” Iran is on the ground in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and to some degree in Yemen, where it is supporting the Houthis. Turkey on the other hand has its role in Syria, Iraq and the Caucasus in Central Asia. Ankara also has its strong economic ties with many Arab countries.
  3. There are still question marks over a sectarian war between the Sunnis and Shiites in the Arab world, over Iran’s support of the Islamic movements in Palestine and Lebanon and over future links between Cairo and Tehran.
  4. Israel is in a win-win situation. Syria’s chemical weapons are being buried and checks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions are being put in place.
  5. Iran’s clout in the Gulf, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon is on the ascendancy. The Gulf, which usually banks on the U.S. is now less prone to challenge Iran. That’s particularly true of Saudi Arabia, which lost its gamble on America’s air strike on Syrian regime forces and on mobilizing Sunni forces against Tehran.
  6. “The long and short of the new balance of power in the Arab world is this: Iran tops the list of winners but there is no mention of the Arabs anywhere.”
In the view of Saudi journalist Tariq Alhomayed, “fallouts of the deal on the region – specifically on Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab partners – will prove more treacherous than the consequences of the 9/11 terrorist outrage that pummeled the United States in 2001.
“I am not dramatizing. It is not so because the Obama Administration sold the region down the river or that the administration turned its back on its historic partnership with Gulfite Arabs.
Many forget that America betrayed Israel, her sacred cow in the region.
Alhomayed says Iran’s chief objective since the days of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlevi was to become the “region’s policeman.”
The Islamic Republic will eventually rid itself of all economic sanctions and achieve its primary objective of creating nuclear weapons “much as India and Pakistan did under Bill Clinton, another Democratic Party president.” 

Wednesday 20 November 2013

UN General Assembly lambasts Syria government

Rivers of Syrian blood
The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee demanded Tuesday that Syria’s government immediately allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to areas throughout the country that need it most and stop hampering distribution with “bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles.”

The draft resolution sailed through the assembly’s 193-member subcommittee by a vote of 123 member states (up 16 from last #UNGA resolution), with 13 against and 46 abstentions, assuring that it will be adopted by the entire General Assembly later this year by a similar margin. Russia and China were among the countries voting against it.
With the Security Council divided between Syria’s key ally Russia and China on one side, and the West and Arab states supporting the opposition on the other, it has been the General Assembly and UN agencies that have been most forthright and vocal in demanding relief in the Syrian crisis and an end to the war. However, General Assembly resolutions are not enforceable.
The resolution approved Tuesday also comes close to blaming the Syrian government and military for the deadly Aug. 21 nerve gas attack in a Damascus suburb held by the rebels.
It says the report by UN inspectors filed in September “provides clear evidence that surface-to-surface rockets were fired on 21 August from Government-held territory into opposition areas, using professionally made munitions containing Sarin.”
Saudi Arabia led the drafting of the text, which was co-sponsored by more than 60 states.
The draft resolution was approved by the General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, and will be put to a formal vote next month in the General Assembly. It is expected to pass with similar support.
Following is the full resolution text:
The General Assembly,

 Guided by the Charter of the United Nations,

 Reaffirming the purposes and principles of the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and relevant international human rights treaties, including the International Covenants on Human Rights,

 Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic and to the principles of the Charter,

 Recalling its resolutions 66/176 of 19 December 2011, 66/253 A of 16 February 2012, 66/253 B of 3 August 2012, 67/183 of 20 December 2012 and 67/262 of 15 May 2013, Human Rights Council resolutions S-16/1 of 29 April 2011,3 S-17/1 of 23 August 2011,3 S-18/1 of 2 December 2011,4 19/1 of 1 March 2012,5 19/22 of 23 March 2012,5 S-19/1 of 1 June 2012,6 20/22 of 6 July 2012, 21/26 of 28 September 2012, 22/24 of 22 March 2013, 23/1 of 29 May 2013, 23/26 of 14 June 2013 and 24/22 of 27 September 2013, and Security Council resolutions 2042 (2012) of 14 April 2012, 2043 (2012) of 21 April 2012 and 2118 (2013) of 27 September 2013 and presidential statement 2013/15 of 2 October 2013,

 Expressing outrage at the continuing escalation of violence in the Syrian Arab  Republic, which has caused over 100,000 casualties, mostly by conventional weapons, and in particular at the continued widespread and systematic gross violations, as well as abuses, of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, including those involving the continued use of heavy weapons and aerial bombardments, such as the indiscriminate use of ballistic missiles and cluster munitions, by the Syrian authorities against the Syrian population,

 Expressing alarm at the failure of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic to protect its population and to implement the relevant resolutions and decisions of United Nations bodies,

 Expressing grave concern at the spread of extremism and extremist groups, and strongly condemning all human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in the Syrian Arab Republic,

 Strongly condemning the large-scale use of chemical weapons on 21 August 2013 in the Ghouta area of Damascus, as concluded in the report of the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, condemning the killing of civilians that resulted from it, affirming that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law, and stressing that those responsible for any use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,

 Recalling that the League of Arab States, in its resolution 7667 adopted by the Ministerial Council of the League at its 140th ordinary session on 1 September 2013, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in the final communiqué of its Annual Coordination Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of 27 September 2013, have held the Syrian Government fully responsible for the chemical attacks against the Syrian people, which took place in the Ghouta area of Damascus,

 Also recalling the statements made by the Secretary-General and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed in the Syrian Arab Republic, stressing that the Syrian authorities have failed to prosecute such serious violations, and noting the repeated encouragement by the High Commissioner that the Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court,

 Strongly condemning the continued border violations from the Syrian Arab Republic into neighboring countries, which have led to casualties among and injuries to the civilians of those countries, including Syrian refugees, and underlining that such incidents have violated international law and highlighted the grave impact of the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic on the security of its neighbors and on regional peace and stability,
Deploring the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation and the failure of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic to ensure the immediate, safe and unimpeded provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting,

 Expressing deep concern at the more than 2.2 million refugees, including more than one million children, and the millions of internally displaced persons fleeing as a result of the extreme violence in the Syrian Arab Republic, and at the escalating violence causing an influx of Syrian refugees into neighboring countries and other countries in the region,

 Welcoming the hosting by the Government of Kuwait, on 30 January 2013, of the pledging conference for the United Nations joint appeal, and also welcoming with appreciation the hosting by the Government of Kuwait of a second international humanitarian pledging conference for Syria in January 2014,

 Expressing its deep appreciation for the significant efforts that have been made by neighboring countries and other countries in the region to accommodate Syrian refugees, while acknowledging the increasing political, socioeconomic and financial impact of the presence of large-scale refugee populations in these countries, notably in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Libya,

 Welcoming the efforts of the United Nations, the League of Arab States and the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria to achieve a solution to the Syrian crisis,

 1. Strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, which is prohibited under international law, amounts to a serious crime and has a devastating impact on civilians, and in particular the massacre in the Ghouta area of Damascus, and notes in this regard the report of 16 September 2013 prepared by the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, which provides clear evidence that surface-to-surface rockets were fired on 21 August from Government-held territory into opposition areas, using professionally made munitions containing Sarin, which strongly points to use by the Syrian Government;

 2. Also strongly condemns the continued widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and all violations of international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities and the Government affiliated shabbiha militias, including those involving the use of heavy weapons, aerial bombardments, cluster munitions, ballistic missiles and other force against civilians, attacks on schools, hospitals and places of worship, massacres, arbitrary executions, extrajudicial killings, the killing and persecution of protestors, human rights defenders and journalists, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, violations of women’s rights, unlawful interference with access to medical treatment, failure to respect and protect medical personnel, torture, systemic sexual and gender-based violence, including rape in detention, and ill-treatment, and strongly condemns all human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law by armed extremists, as well as any human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law by armed anti-Government groups;

 3. Condemns all grave violations and abuses committed against children in contravention of applicable international law, such as their recruitment and use, killing and maiming, rape and all other forms of sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, ill-treatment and their use as human shields;

 4. Also condemns all violence, irrespective of where it comes from, and calls upon all parties to immediately put an end to all forms of violence, including terrorist acts and acts of violence or intimidation that may foment sectarian tensions, and to comply strictly with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law;

 5. Demands that all parties immediately put an end to all violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and recalls, in particular, the obligation under international humanitarian law to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants, the prohibition against indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and all attacks against civilians and civilian objects, also demands that all parties to the conflict take all appropriate steps to protect civilians, including by desisting from attacks directed against civilian objects, such as medical centers, schools and water stations, immediately demilitarize such facilities, avoid establishing military positions in populated areas and enable the evacuation of the wounded and all civilians who wish to do so from besieged areas, and recalls in this regard that the Syrian authorities bear primary responsibility for protecting its population;

 6. Strongly condemns the intervention of all foreign combatants in the Syrian Arab Republic, including those fighting on behalf of the Syrian authorities, and in particular Hezbollah, and expresses deep concern that their involvement further exacerbates the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation, which has a serious negative impact on the region;

 7. Demands that the Syrian authorities immediately release all persons arbitrarily detained, including the members of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, publish a list of all detention facilities, ensure that conditions of detention comply with applicable international law and immediately allow access of independent monitors to all detention facilities;

 8. Also demands that the Syrian authorities fully cooperate with the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and provide it and individuals working on its behalf with immediate, full and unfettered entry and access to all areas of the country, and further demands that all parties cooperate fully with the commission in the performance of its mandate;

 9. Stresses the importance of ensuring accountability and the need to end impunity and hold to account those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity, notably in the Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August 2013, and encourages the Security Council to consider appropriate measures to ensure accountability in the Syrian Arab Republic, and stresses the important role that international criminal justice could play in this regard;

 10. Underlines the importance that the Syrian people, on the basis of broad, inclusive and credible consultations, should determine, within the framework provided by international law and based upon the complementarity principle, the domestic process and mechanisms to achieve reconciliation, truth and accountability for gross violations, as well as reparations and effective remedies for the victims;

11. Reminds the Security Council of its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and to take measures to put an end to all serious violations of international humanitarian law and all serious violations and abuses of international human rights law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic;

 12. Strongly condemns all attacks by the Syrian authorities or any other party against medical facilities, personnel and vehicles as well as the use of medical and civilian facilities, including hospitals, for armed purposes, recalls that under international humanitarian law the wounded and sick must receive, to the fullest extent practicable, and with the least possible delay, the medical care and attention required by their condition, and urges that free passage for medical personnel and supplies, including surgical items and medicine be provided to all areas in the Syrian Arab Republic;

 13. Stresses that the magnitude of the humanitarian tragedy caused by the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic requires immediate action to facilitate the safe and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance throughout the entire country, in particular in areas and districts where humanitarian needs are especially urgent, condemns all cases of arbitrary denial of humanitarian access, and recalls that depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supply and access, can constitute a violation of international humanitarian law;

 14. Demands that the Syrian authorities take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles, including through immediately facilitating safe and unimpeded access to people in need, through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and across borders, and urges all parties to take all appropriate steps to facilitate the efforts of the United Nations, its specialized agencies and all humanitarian actors engaged in humanitarian relief activities to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the affected people in the Syrian Arab Republic and to nominate empowered interlocutors who can work with humanitarian agencies to resolve difficulties in gaining such access, in order to fully implement the humanitarian response plan;

 15. Expresses grave concern at the increasing numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons as a result of the ongoing violence, reiterates its appreciation for the significant efforts that have been made by neighboring countries and countries of the region to assist those who have fled across the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic as a consequence of the violence, urges all relevant United Nations agencies, in particular the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and other donors to provide urgent and coordinated support to Syrian refugees and their host countries, and calls upon Member States, based on burden-sharing principles, to host the Syrian refugees in coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner;

 16. Demands that the Syrian Government implement the relevant resolutions and decisions of United Nations bodies and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons;

 17. Stresses its support for the aspirations of the Syrian people for a peaceful, democratic and pluralistic society, with the full and effective participation of women, in which there is no room for sectarianism or discrimination on ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender or any other grounds, based on the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms;

 18. Reaffirms its support for the Geneva communiqué of 30 June 2012, and demands in this regard that all Syrian parties to the conflict rapidly implement the transition plan set forth in the final communiqué in a way that assures the safety of all in an atmosphere of stability and calm, provides for clear and irreversible steps in the transition according to a fixed time frame and establishes a consensus transitional governing body with full executive powers to which all functions of the presidency and Government are transferred, including those pertaining to military, security, and intelligence issues, as well as a review of the constitution on the basis of an inclusive national dialogue and free and fair multiparty elections held in the framework of this new constitutional order, and calls for the convening as soon as possible of the international conference on the Syrian Arab Republic to implement the Geneva communiqué. 

Saturday 16 November 2013

“The Game of Nations” is defunct

This is the weekly think piece penned in Arabic by Saudi mass media celebrity Jamal Khashoggi for pan-Arab daily al-Hayat
Better stop being haunted by the 1950s and 1960s mentality. And better cast aside “The Game of Nations” book written by the famed ex-spy Miles Copeland.
Local or international intelligence operatives can no more change the course of history, build nation-states, demarcate borders or create national leaders.
Yes, they can sabotage a course of events or stop that course in its tracks, but they cannot reignite it or change its direction on a whim.
Some people are slow learners and persist in being obsessed by grand bargains.
Vast segments of the public still consider themselves “pawns on a chessboard” – another “book” that people should stop reading – and sit idly by waiting for whatever is decided for them. They would thoughtlessly subscribe to what columnists and political analysts propagate about plans in world capitals for “a grand political bargain” with Iran.
The grand bargain with Iran would see her reconciling with the West, putting her nuclear ambitions on hold (albeit temporarily), and sufficing with nuclear power production.
The deal would leave Syria, after its regime’s rehabilitation in one way or another, in Iran’s sphere of influence. In return, Saudi Arabia would get Lebanon as a consolation prize. A Lebanese government acceptable to Riyadh and amenable to Hezbollah would be set up.
Those with a 1960s mindset continue to redraw the map of the Middle East without installing “The Power of the Peoples” update on “The Game of Nations.”
After the Arab Spring’s defeats and setbacks, “The Power of the Peoples” is still alive and kicking. It will surely affect the outcome of events despite all the agreements that could be reached in Geneva-2 or at the public and hush-hush meetings being held around the globe to discuss the New Arab World, which is still in the making.
True, the Middle East is on fire and in a state of flux. The borders set in the Sykes-Picot Agreement are still in place, but the flow of people and across these so-called artificial borders has been ceaseless. Seeping through these porous frontiers too where these peoples’ pan-Arab problems.
All Middle East files have been opened concomitantly. It’s as though the world and history want to solve them all at the same time: the perennial Arab-Israeli dispute; chronic unemployment and underdevelopment; crises of democracy and freedoms; and even the Sunni-Shiite faceoff.
That’s what makes proponents of deal-making insist on the existence of “The Grand Bargain.”
When drawing a geopolitical map of the Middle East today, we find it leads off with the 5+1 talks in Geneva between Iran and the West. The negotiations have “temporarily” failed to yield an agreement for Tehran to suspend nuclear enrichment and for the West to temporarily lift some economic sanctions; and for the Islamic Republic to normalize relations with the West, ending its 34-year-old cold war with the United States.
Sitting on the sidelines are Saudi Arabia and her Gulf partners. Israel is close by. All of them are faithfully watching what’s going on with interest.
Only Israel is outspoken about her concern, fuming and threatening at times that any agreement reached will not stop her from acting alone to protect her national security.
In fact, Israel is the prime mover of Western and American interest in Iran’s nuclear program, which it perceives as an existential threat.
The Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, don’t see it that way. They deem it as a threat liable to tilt the regional balance of power in favor of Iran, which is eagerly striving to become the region’s hegemon.
The Gulf Arabs are more concerned than Israel because the Geneva negotiations revolve around Iran’s nuclear ambitions and let pass Iranian interventionism and regional hegemony designs. The Geneva negotiations close the eyes to Iran’s obstruction of national reconciliation in Bahrain, her smuggling of arms to the Houthis in Yemen and what Prince Saud al-Feisal described as her occupation of Syria.
At best, the United States would tell us a solution of the nuclear problem would be crowned by a historic reconciliation bound to solve the other issues.
Such U.S. promises are empty words.
Washington won’t be bothered with what it describes as “local Middle Eastern” matters that don’t threaten her or Israel’s security – matters it does not understand or wish to understand in the first place.
Here we turn to the Syrian square on the Great Bargain’s chessboard.
Saudi Arabia wants the conflict to come to an end because the Syria crisis is taxing her and her partners in the region by virtue of the overflow of demographic changes and the threats made by al-Qaeda to turn Syria into its homestead. Al-Qaeda is already exploiting sayings of the prophet to sign up new recruits, chiefly from Saudi Arabia.
The United States for its part is not in a rush to resolve the Syria conflict. And herein comes the “Grand Bargain” theorists and their aforesaid talk of “Syria for Iran and Lebanon for Saudi Arabia.”
They stretch their imagination further, talking of a second deal with Egypt as the top prize and a third involving Libya. They might even dismember Syria as in the wake of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles with total disregard of the historical transformations that occurred in the region since the Arab Spring.
The most important of these shifts were “peoples’ power,” “cross border information” and the influence of “social media” and “organized political movement.”
These changes put a stop to underhand deals. Strong leaders who descend on their people “from the sky” are a thing of the past. And so are the “Secret Police” and the likes of the “Securitate” and the “Stasi.”
It is wrong to resist the power of history under the illusion that the powerful can strike deals and plan the future independently of the peoples whose divisions were caused by a lack of experience in democracy. These peoples are still in a state of flux and at times furious. They know what they want but are bewildered by it.
They will certainly not accept a new conqueror showing up on a white horse to lead them to a bright new dawn.
The era of one-man rule is dead and gone.